Russia condemns US strike, Turkey calls for no-fly Zone

Moscow slammed the US strike on a Syrian airbase Friday as “aggression against a sovereign state”, and suspended a bilateral agreement to help avoid clashes in the skies over the war-torn country.

“President Putin considers American strikes on Syria aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international norms, and under an invented pretext,” said the statement by the Kremlin press service posted on the official website.

US President Donald Trump ordered a military strike on a Syrian air base at 0040GMT, in retaliation for what he said was a “very barbaric attack” Tuesday that is suspected to have contained a nerve agent.

Moscow has been flying a bombing campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces since September 2015 and on Wednesday said it would continue to back the regime.

The Russian foreign ministry announced the suspension of a memorandum signed with the US in October 2015 which set up a hotline to avoid clashes between their air forces in Syrian airspace as they carried out separate bombing campaigns.

“We call upon the UN Security Council to hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss the situation,” the ministry said in a statement, calling the strike “thoughtless.”

Russia had sought to deflect blame from Assad over the incident, claiming Syrian jets struck a rebel arms depot housing “toxic substances” and denying that the regime has access to any chemical weapons.

“The Syrian army does not have any chemical weapon stockpiles,” the Kremlin statement said, accusing Washington of trying to “divert attention of the international community from the many civilian casualties in Iraq.”

“The fact of destruction of all chemical weapon stockpiles of the Syrian armed forces was recorded and confirmed by the (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons).”

“This step by Washington inflicts considerable damage to US-Russia relations, which are already in a lamentable state,” the Kremlin said.

A White House official said 59 precision-guided Tomahawk missiles hit the Shayrat airfield, from where the US believes the attack was launched.

The Syrian army said that six people were killed and serious damage caused by the strike.

Turkey on Friday welcomed a US missile strike on a Syrian regime airbase in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack, calling for a no-fly zone in the country to prevent further bloodshed.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the strike against the Sharyat airbase in Homs, northern Syria, was “a positive response” to the “war crimes” of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“In order to prevent similar massacres from happening again, it is necessary to enforce a no-fly zone and create safe zones in Syria without further delay,” he added in a statement.

He said the destruction of Sharyat airbase marked “an important step to ensure that chemical and conventional attacks against the civilian population do not go unpunished.”

US President Donald Trump ordered the military strike on the base in retaliation for what he said was a “very barbaric attack” when dozens were killed early on Tuesday in Khan Sheikhun in Idlib, northwestern Syria.

The Turkish health ministry on Thursday said initial analysis suggested victims were exposed to the deadly nerve agent sarin.

Kalin said the incident in Idlib demonstrated the regime’s “complete disregard” for a political transition and efforts to enforce a ceasefire agreed late last year and sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

In this image released by the US Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017.
Earlier, the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said Turkey believed that “the Assad regime must be punished completely in the international arena” in comments quoted by state-run news agency Anadolu.

He described the strikes against the base as “significant” and “meaningful” after civilians had been targeted in the suspected chemical weapons attack.

“The Assad regime’s barbarism must be stopped at once,” Kurtulmus said, saying the peace process should hasten a “fair” and “lasting” peace for the people.

“I hope that this United States operation will contribute to securing peace.”

Turkey has repeatedly called for Assad to go while Russia and Iran remain the president’s most important allies in the more than six-year war.

In a statement, the Turkish foreign ministry said Ankara would give its “full support to steps taken to ensure that similar crimes do not go unpunished and (that there is) accountability”.

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